Interviewee: Isaac Serman
Title: My paternal grandfather, Tsvi-Girsh Sorkin
Place and Date: Rakvere, Estonia - 1890s
This is my paternal grandfather Tsvi-Girsh Sorkin. The picture was taken in Rakvere in the 1890s.
My father's family lived in a small Estonian town, Rakvere, located 100 kilometers away from Tallinn. Rakvere had a very advantageous geographic position. The roads to Tallinn and Petersburg were through the town. In 1866 two Jews came to Rakvere, which was called Viesenberg at that time. My parental grandfather, Tsvi-Girsh Sorkin, was one of them and the other one was his companion, Aaron-Eadle Friedman. At that time Jews were banned to live in Rakvere as there was a Jewish Pale of Settlement in tsarist Russia, but both of the arrivals were good tinsmiths, having five years of experience. Besides, tinsmiths were in demand in Rakvere and not only in the town. There were large estates in the whereabouts of the town and experienced tinsmiths were needed there, so they were permitted to settle in the town. I also heard that apart from them there were other Jews in Rakvere, Cantonists, who served in the tsarist army, but I do not know if that was true.
Actually my grandfather and his friend started the Jewish settlement in Rakvere. In the late 1880s there were 100 Jewish families in Rakvere. It is known that in 1870 the Jews of Rakvere were permitted to open a Jewish town cemetery. The reason for that was the death of two Jews - Cantonists. They were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Rakvere. My grandfather Tsvi-Girsh Sorkin was buried there next. He died rather young, in 1894. Grandmother died in Rakvere in 1903. She was buried next to Grandfather in the Jewish cemetery of Rakvere in accordance with the Jewish rite.
I do not know exactly how my grandmother Tsive-Feiga came to Rakvere. I supposed she got married to Grandfather and went there with him. I do not remember where they lived before their arrival in Rakvere.
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Interviewee: Isaac Serman
Title: Samuel and Ita Serman with their sons Dovid and Shleime
Place and Date: Rakvere, Estonia - 1901
These are my parents Samuel and Ita Serman. My eldest bother Dovid is sitting next to Mother with the shovel in his hands. Mother is holding the second son, Shleime. The picture was taken in Rakvere in 1901.
My parenys got married in 1897. Father was 25 and Mother was 19. Certainly, they had a traditional Jewish wedding as it could not be different at that time. All weddings in Rakvere were according to the Jewish rite.
After getting married, my parents moved to the house of Father's parents. When my elder brother Dovid was born in 1898 they rented an apartment. It was a rather large maisonette and Grandmother Tsive-Feiga moved in there with us. The second son, Shleime, was born in 1900. It was written Solomon in his documents, but at home my brothers and I were called only by our Jewish names. In 1901 Meishe - Moses in his documents - and his twin were born, but the twin-brother lived for only three weeks and died. The deceased infant was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Rakvere next to Grandfather. In 1903 Ekhonon was born and in 1906 my sister Agness came into the world. I do not know her Jewish name. She was called Agi at home.
I was born after a big gap, in 1918. My parents were not young any more and did not think that they would have any more children. I was named Itshok, but Isaac was written in my documents. The birthday of my mother and I are close: she was born on the 5th candle of Chanukkah and I was born the following day, after the 8th candle.
Our family was religious. My parents strictly observed all Jewish traditions. My father was the warden of the synagogue [gabbai] in Rakvere. Like any gabbai he was a member of the board of the Jewish community of Estonia. Father was a convinced Zionist. Only Yiddish was spoken at home. It is my mother tongue and I often speak Yiddish with my wife.
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Interviewee: Marina Sineokaya
Title: Revekka Ogranovich as a nurse during World World I
Place and Date: Tallin, Estonia - 1914
This is my mother's sister Revekka (in the center), as a nurse during World War I with the wounded in the field hospital, where she used to work. The picture was taken in Tallin in 1914.
I don't know whether my mother or her sisters had Jewish names. They might have had Jewish names, but they weren't used in the family. My grandparents were religious. Jewish traditions were kept in the family. Sabbath and Jewish holidays were celebrated. While the children were small, they took part in the religious life of the family, and when they grew up they became atheists. Of course, all of them went to their parents' place for Jewish holidays, but they just merely paid a tribute to the tradition.
In spite of the fact that my grandfather was a common worker, he wanted his children to get a good education. All of them went to a Russian lyceum, as there were no Jewish lyceums at that time. The daughters didn't go on with higher education after finishing the lyceum as they acquired such comprehensive and deep knowledge in the lyceum that it was enough to work in pretty serious positions. Revekka was the only one who left for the Latvian city Revel [today's Estonian capital Tallin] and entered a university there, but she left the university with the outbreak of World War I and went to a front field hospital as a nurse. After the war she returned to Nikolayev.
Revekka was married to an officer, Mikhail Sevastopolskiy. They had a daughter called Sofia. Revekka was a housewife. She was a great cook, and an impeccable homemaker. She was over the hill when she died and she was the one who had the longest life.
Interviewee: Rachel Randvee
Title: Hirsh-Leib and Hesse Tsivian on their wedding day
Place and Date: Tartu, Estonia - 1917
This photograph shows my parents, Hirsh-Leib and Hesse Tsivian, nee Heiman, on the day of their wedding, 1st May 1917, in Tartu.
My father was born in 1895. He finished cheder in Kreizburg, his mother tongue was Yiddish. To help his mother he started working at a young age. At first, he was a salesman's apprentice in a shop in Kreizburg, and later he worked as a salesman in a fabric shop in Riga for several years. At the end of 1916 my father went to Petrograd. He intended to look for a job there. Petrograd was on the eve of revolution - there were mass-meetings, strikes, and plundering. My father didn't like this at all, he liked order in all things, and after a few months he decided to go back to Latvia. On his way to Riga he stopped in the small Estonian city of Tartu. He liked the city - it was a quiet neat place with a Jewish community and, which was essential for my father, it had a synagogue. One Saturday while visiting the synagogue a beautiful young lady attracted his attention. This is how my father met his future wife, my mother, Hesse Heiman.
My mother was born in 1895 in Tartu. She was the youngest child and the favorite in the family. When she was 15 she went to Warsaw to study sewing. My mother studied there for two years in a school that trained tailors of top qualification. She had a certificate confirming her graduation from that school, it was later posted on a wall in my mother's workshop. In 1912 my mother returned to Tartu and worked there for several years in a privately-owned sewing workshop. In March 1917 as she came to the synagogue on Saturday she saw a strange young man who looked at her with curiosity. My mother was very pretty and, besides, she was tastefully and fashionably dressed. They started to see each other. My parents' wedding took place on 1st May 1917, in the same synagogue where they had first seen each other.
Interviewee: Mariasha Vasserman
Title: Dayle Vasserman and her husband Hertz Vasserman
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1920s
This is my father's jewelry store. My parents are by the entrance to the store: to the left is my mother Dayle Vasserman, to the right is my father Hertz Vasserman. The picture was taken in Tallinn in the 1920s.
My parents got married in 1914. In the same year, World War I was unleashed. When the Germans entered the territory of the Baltic countries, as per order of the Tsar in 1915 all Jews were to be exiled from here to the remote areas of Russia within 24 hours. My parents and Mother's family were not willing to go to the unfamiliar region. Nobody knew how long they would have to live far away from the vernacular place. Some distant relatives lived in Minsk and they decided to go to them. Military actions were being held in that direction and they couldn't cross the front line. Then they remembered that some of their relatives, the Goldbergs, were living in Tallinn, so they went there as they had no choice. Thus, our family turned out to be in Tallinn.
I don't what Father did for a living when our family had just arrived in Tallinn. I know that he had to start from scratch. Maybe he managed to take some money and precious things from Friedelstadt and it helped for a while. At any rate, when my sister was born, Father had a store called 'Gold, Clocks, Crystal.' The building of that store is still there. The store was in downtown Tallinn, on Viru Street. It was a busy street, so there were a lot of customers at the store. Nowadays there is a book-store in its place. There were two stores in one building before. The largest area was taken by a drapery store, owned by Berkovich. The second part of the store was occupied by my father.
Father was respected in town; he was thought to be an honest tradesman. Of course it attracted the customers, as they knew they wouldn't be swindled in Father's store. Mother was always being constantly busy. She helped Father in the store. A governess was hired for the children. She took care of my sister, who was a baby, and my brother. She was a very nice woman. When my brother and sister grew up, the governess stopped working for us and she resumed her work when I was born. She raised me since I was a baby. My governess was Estonian. She was a very educated woman, fluent in German and French. She was single and she was affectionate to me and our entire family.
Interviewee: Simon Rapoport
Title: My father, Iosif Rapoport
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1924
This is my father Iosif Rapoport. The picture was taken for his ID in Tallinn in 1924.
There is hardly anything I know about my parents' families. My father, Iosif Rapoport, was born in a small Lithuanian town called Kedaineai in 1887. I don't know anything about my paternal grandparents. All I know about my father's family is that he had a brother, David, who immigrated to South Africa with his family either in 1928 or in 1929. They lived in Johannesburg. David had several children. I don't know their names. My parents corresponded with him before the outbreak of World War II. Then correspondence was disrupted. At that time we were citizens of the USSR, and the regime disapproved of those whose relatives were residing abroad, and even stronger disapproved of those who kept in touch with them. Thus, we didn't get in touch with that family any more. Father had a younger sister called Vera. She was single. When my parents got married she lived with them for a while. In the late 1930s she left for Riga. Vera perished when Latvia was occupied by Hitler's troops. She was shot by Germans just like many other Jews.
I don't know much about my father's childhood. As far as I know, he went to cheder. When he was a grown-up, he was rather knowledgeable about religious issues. I don't know if Father got a secular education. He was involved in timbering and did well. Unfortunately, my recollections about Father are scarce and fragmental: he died in Tallinn in 1930, when I was about five years old. I just remember his image. Father was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Tallinn in accordance with the Jewish rite.
Interviewee: Simon Rapoport
Title: Vava Polyak with her schoolmates and teachers
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1928
This picture was taken in Tallinn in 1928 during the period of time when my elder siblings went to the Tallinn Jewish lyceum. Of course, I do not know all teachers and students in the pictures. Some of them had already finished lyceum when I was enrolled there. Besides, I cannot recognize some of them in the old picture.
The headmaster of the lyceum, Samuel Gourin, is in the center of the picture. The dark-haired man in a dark suit to his right is the teacher of natural studies, Kosotskiy. He was loved by all students. His classes were always interesting. To his right is a teacher of junior grades, Khatskin. To the left from Gourin with a bow-tie is inspector Sauerbrei. I do not know the two teachers, sitting next to him. The 3rd from the inspector is a teacher called Pasova. Next to her is the mathematics teacher Motle Zhytomirskiy. I don?t know the rest of the teachers. They were not working in the lyceum in the period of my studies.
Students: The 3rd to the right in the 1st row is Natan Osnovich. He survived the Holocaust, then lived in Tallinn. He died a couple of years ago. The tallest from the senior students, the 9th in the top row is Zalman Leerman. He lived in Moscow after the war and died there. The 6th to the left in the first row is Rita Herzenberg. She is currently living in Tallinn. The 8th to the left in the same row is Evgenia Gurina, daughter of the headmaster of the lyceum. She passed away in Tallinn in 2002. To her right, the 8th in the 1st row is Benno Soh. He died in the Holocaust. The 12th to the left in the fist row is Aronovich. He lived in Tallinn after the war. The 8th to the right in the 4th row is Vava (Valentina) Polyak (married name Klompus), elder sister of my wife. Valentina and her husband died during the Holocaust in 1941. The 11th to the right in the same row is nee Tsitron, married name Shein; I don?t remember her first name. Right behind Gourin in the 3rd row is Sara Borus. She was born in Tallinn in 1914 and recently died in Tallinn. The 4th to the right in the last row is Sarah Rybka. I don?t remember the rest, or maybe I cannot recognize them.
Interviewee: Etta Ferdmann
Title: Zinaida Ferdmann and her family
Place and Date: Narva, Estonia - 1929
The picture was taken at the bank of the Narva. From left to right: my mother's sister Musya Burmistrovich, nee Donets, my grandfather Abram Donets, my mother Zinaida Ferdmann, nee Donets. Grandmother Etta Donets is standing to the right. To the left is Musya's friend, whose name I do not remember. The picture was taken in 1929.
Mother’s family lived in Narva. The name of my maternal grandfather was Abram Donets. He was born in Narva. The date is not known to me. I do not know what he did for a living. Grandmother Etta Donets was born in 1889. Grandmother was a seamstress. She was a gorgeous, cheerful lady. Mother said she had a wonderful taste and she had rich customers.
My grandparents had two daughters. Mother was the elder one, born in 1912. Her Jewish name was Zelda, but she was always called Zinaida. Mother’s sister Maria was born in 1913. She was called Musya in the family. Mother’s family was rather well-off. Mother and Musya graduated from the Russian lyceum in Narva. At that time it was considered to be a good education. Mother was very beautiful. She had a very beautiful, feminine shape with a small waist. In 1933 she was even elected the beauty queen of Narva.
Of course, my mother’s family was traditionally Jewish, rather religious. All of them probably went to the synagogue and marked holidays, and believed in God, but they were not such zealots as my paternal grandmother Yachna.
Grandmother Etta died young in 1932. She was only 43. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Narva. Grandfather Abram was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Tallinn. In 1940 he left for Tallinn on business and was run over by a car. Grandpa was not taken to Narva and was buried in Tallinn.
Interviewee: Elkhonen Saks
Title: Elkhonen Saks on a Chanukkah celebration in school
Place and Date: Valga, Estonia - 1934
This snapshot shows the pupils and teachers of the Valga Jewish elementary school who participated in a drama performance staged on Chanukkah in 1934. I am standing in the first row, third from the right.
I started school in 1934. It was the Valga 6-year elementary Jewish school. The curriculum in our school was the same as in other comprehensive schools, but the teaching was conducted in Yiddish. Besides, we intensively studied Hebrew from the 1st grade, as well as the Torah. We also learned Estonian. The school was sponsored by the state, and the Jewish community helped to rent a gym and supported children from poor families. Besides, the school was under the authority of the Board of the Jewish Cultural Autonomy. The school had no premises of its own, so at first a house was rented and then only a semi-house. I remember that the surname of our director was Bakhmat, and the chairman of the Parents' Board was a very respected resident of our town: Doctor Polyakovsky.
Jewish holidays were always cheerfully celebrated at school, especially Chanukkah and Purim. We prepared performances and made suits. And on Pesach we had a vacation: this holiday was celebrated at home. When I entered that school, there were about 60 pupils, and after four years only 25 remained. The school was closed in 1938.
Interviewee: Simon Rapoport
Title: Rabbi Aba Gomer during the wedding rite of Ruth Polyak
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1939
This is the rabbi of Tallinn, Aba Gomer, during the wedding rite of Ruth Polyak and her first husband Evgeniy Refes. To his left is Ruth's sister Valentina Klompus, nee Polyak. The picture was taken in Tallinn in 1939.
I met my Ruth Refes at my friend's place. Ruth was born in Tallinn in 1920. Her father, Mark Polyak, was from Ukraine and her mother, Marta Polyak, nee Kaplan, was born in Tartu, Estonia. Ruth's parents were doctors. She had an elder sister called Valentina, born in 1918. Both sisters graduated from lyceums. In 1939 Ruth was married to a man from Tartu, a lawyer named Evgeniy Refes. Their son Arkadiy was born in 1940. When World War II was unleashed, Ruth, her child and parents were evacuated in Tataria. Her sister Valentina Klompus and her husband stayed in Estonia. Both of them perished. Ruth's husband was in the lines with the Estonian corps.
When the war was over the family came back to Tallinn. Ruth entered the Teachers' Training Institute in Tallinn, and graduated from the Foreign Languages Department. When she was teaching English at compulsory school, Ruth extramurally graduated from Leningrad Pedagogic Institute. She left school and started working as an English teacher at the Pedagogic Institute.
Ruth and I got married in 1957. We didn't have a wedding party. We just had our marriage registered in the state marriage registration office and didn't have any celebration. At that time I just started working and practically had no money. We have lived together since that time. We are happy to have found each other. Ruth is retired now, but she didn't give up her favorite work. She is tutoring at home. Her son lives in the USA. In spring 2005 we went there for a visit.
Interviewee: Mariasha Vasserman
Title: Isaac Goldman and the Maccabi football team
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1939
This is the Maccabi football team. The 1st to the left is my sister's future husband Isaac Goldman. The picture was taken in Tallinn in 1939.
My sister was born in 1919. She went to the Jewish lyceum on Karu Street. All of us, my brother, sister and I, were enrolled in Zionist organizations by school. There were Maccabi, Hashomer Hatzair, Betar. My elder sister and I joined Maccabi. We were focused on physical training. We had good gymnasiums and different circles. There were several groups in every circle for children of different ages. I remember when I was attended training classes in Maccabi, there was another group with adult, very beautiful girls. Isaac Goldman, my sister's future husband was also in Maccabi. He was a great sportsman, a member of the Maccabi team.
In November 1940 my elder sister got married. She met her future husband, Isaac Goldman, in the lyceum. They were classmates and had been in love for a long time. My sister was married in a chuppah in the Tallinn synagogue. Rabbi Aba Gomer led the wedding ceremony and gave them the ketubbah. Then their marriage was registered in the city hall. It was a mere stationary procedure. We had a wedding party at home. There were not a lot of guests, just close friends and relatives. It was in the Soviet time, so there was no way the newly-weds could have rented a separate apartment. My sister and her husband lived with us. Isaac was a good expert. He worked with jewelry, silver in particular. My sister kept on studying at the Arts Institute.
Interviewee: Elkhonen Saks
Title: Elkhonen Saks with his sister Ite Saks and their nurse Zelma
Place and Date: Valga, Estonia - 1941
This is a picture of my sister Ite Saks, me and our nurse and servant Zelma. The photo was taken at the entrance of the house in Valga where we rented an apartment for many years.
At the end of 1921 my sister Ite was born. My mother was frequently sick, so she was helped around the house by an elderly Latvian lady, Zelma. Zelma was illiterate, but very kind and nice. I was born in 1927. My birth, I think, was the reason for my mother's death. She died when I was only 7 days old. My sister told me that when mother was alive all Jewish traditions were observed in the house. She tried to cook kosher meals only, observed Sabbath and celebrated all Jewish holidays.
After her death all the housework was done by Zelma. As a boy I believed that Zelma was my mother, because she looked after me. The first language I started to speak was Latvian. At the same time my sister and my father taught me Yiddish and I knew it perfectly well by the time I turned 3. In the family we used several languages, Yiddish always being the main one. Yiddish was also spoken in the families of our friends, and so I learnt the language very well communicating with Jewish children and their parents. Since then I write in all questionnaires that my native language is Yiddish, although I speak several other languages fluently. I believe I do that, because Yiddish is the language of my childhood. Zelma tried to stick to the order my mother had established, but, certainly, we didn't have a real Jewish life any more.
My sister Ite and I became independent early, because from 1936 to 1941 we lived in Valga alone. Since then our father lived in Tallinn, received a good salary and visited us in Valga a few times a month. He used to spend holidays with us or just came for two or three days. His job implied constant travelling, that's why he thought we would be better off in Valga, although he did plan to take us to Tallinn some time in the future. Of course, Zelma stayed with us taking care of the household, and for me she was both a nurse and a mother.
Interviewee: Isaac Serman
Title: Isaac Serman as the major of the Estonian corps
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1945
This is me when I was major of the Estonian corps. My awards: to the left is the Red Star Order, awarded for the battle in Velikiye Luki, an Order of the Great Patriotic War of the 2nd class, to the right is the Medal For the Defense of Leningrad. The picture was taken in Tallinn in 1945.
After World War II I stayed in the Estonian corps. Officers got assignments via the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party. I was sent to Tartu. I served in the headquarters of the 7th division. There was a time when the commander came and I was asked to hold the speech. They liked my report and I was told that I would be sent to Moscow to study. I did not have military education. I only finished compulsory school. I was waiting for the assignment for studies, but it was not coming. Then the deputy political officer of the regiment, Gorohover, was a Jew. He talked to me and said that I had to be demobilized as there was no place for Jews in the Soviet army. I understood that I was right and in 1947 I was demobilized.
I was willing to get education. I did not have any certificate from school. When I left Rakvere, I did not take anything with me, but I was incredibly lucky. In 1941 I submitted the documents to Tartu University and there was a copy of my school certificate and a photograph in the archive of the university. It was very important for me as this way I was able to enter Tartu University. I wanted to enter the History Department.
By that time I had found a job in Tartu, in the editing department of the paper 'Edasi', 'Go ahead.' It was the first paper issued in Estonia. There was no journalism department at the university and the history department was the closest to my work. One of my entrance exams was Russian language. It was hard for me as I did not know it. Russian was not taught in the Estonian school. All of us spoke Estonian in the Estonian corps. I started studying Russian in order to prepare for the exam. When I wrote my first dictation, there were seven or eight mistakes in each line, but still I studied and passed the exams successfully. I worked and studied at the same time. The work was difficult in itself, and I had to combine it with studies and family, but I was young and ambitious.
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Interviewee: Etta Ferdmann
Title: My father, Gessel Ferdmann at home sitting at the sewing machine
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1955
This is my father Gesssel Ferdmann at home sitting at the sewing machine. The picture was taken in Tallinn in 1955 shortly after father's return from the camp.
After the war my father was in charge of a shoe workshop. He did not have a very professional accountant and in a while he had a discrepancy between the cash and the reports. There was a surplus in the till of 1,200 rubles. In 1950 there was an audit at the workshop and the surplus was seized. I went to the sixth grade at that time. It was January 1950. I remember how they came to our place for a search. It was dreadful for me. Of course, they did not find anything, but they arrested Mother. I stayed by myself. I was watched and assisted by my kind neighbors. Father was sentenced to eight years in prison, then they thought it was not enough and they added another two years, that is, ten years in total. Mother was in Tallinn jail. I went to see both Mother and Father, brought them some food. It was such a bad time!
Mother was in prison for a relatively short term: eight months. They did not find her guilty and let her go. She had to work as Father was in prison. First, she was employed at a textile store as a saleswoman. Then she went to work for a dairy store. Father stayed in Tallinn. Here we had a camp at Magazinin Street. Usually they did not imprison people in the city where they were from. For example, a prisoner from Tallinn was sent to Kostroma and one from Kostroma in Tallinn. It was done so that it would be hard for the relatives to go and see prisoners, for them to feel left out from ordinary life, for the hardship of prison to be felt dramatically. Father had many friends and they managed that he could stay in Tallinn. Mother and I went to see Dad, and at times we left things for him.
My father’s pardon was an unbelievable concurrence of circumstances. Some official happened to live in the house, where we were living after the war. In the apartment one floor below us lived the Estonian writer August Yakobson, who was a Soviet writer. After the war, my father decided to make clothes to have an additional income. He did well and soon he became a good tailor. Yakobson ordered suits from my father and came to our place. Then Yakobson was elected the chairman of The Presidium of the Supreme Council of Estonia. At that time his family moved to the place where the members of the government resided. That August Yakobson exempted my father. It turned out that Yakobson sent a request to the camp asking for the characteristics of the prisoner Ferdmann. He had excellent characteristics and the Presidium of Supreme Council pleaded for my father’s pardon. It was unbelievable and I will never forget it.
Father was pardoned, and he had no right to live in Tallinn until his sentence expired. No matter that he was pardoned, his rights were restricted. The fact that he was bereft of his voting right, was of no importance to my father, but it was very hard for him to be separated from his family. Father was registered in the Tallinn suburb Keila. He was formally there, but in actuality he was living with us.
Interviewee: Rachel Randvee
Title: Rachel Randvee and her family at their summer house
Place and Date: Vosu, Estonia - 1960
This is me and my family in our summer house in Vosu. The photo was taken in 1960. In the summer of that year, my family rented a summer house in a resort place of Vosu, at the shore of the Gulf of Finland. Our father visited us occasionally; my sister Riva and her family came to stay on weekends. On one occasion we all got together to be photographed.
Standing in the upper row (left to right): Yakov Kozlovski, Hesse Kozlovski, Riva Kozlovski, nee Tsivian, myself and my second husband, Tarmo Randvee.
Sitting in the lower row (left to right): Gabriel Kozlovski, Pesach Kozlovski, Hirsh-Leib Tsivian, Ene Randvee and Riho Randvee.
My sister, Riva, did not become a pianist as our parents had expected. Throughout her life she sat at a sewing machine and worked as a simple seamstress. Yakov, her husband, suffered from heart disease and died at 62. They raised three sons. Hesse, the eldest son, now owns a large business in Tallinn; he is a trustee with the Jewish Community of Estonia. He has a Jewish family; his daughter married a Jew and they live in the USA. Gabriel, his second son, has a mixed marriage, but his children are now interested in Jewish life. Pesach, Riva's youngest son, is a very sensitive and kind person. He always cared for his mother and helped her in all things. Pesach has always been close to his mother, and, perhaps, that's why he is still single. My sister Riva died in 2000.
Interviewee: Margarita Kamiyenovskaya
Title: Margarita Kamiyenovskaya during her vacation
Place and Date: Piarnu, Estonia - 1966
This is me by the spa building during my vacation in Piarnu. This picture was taken in 1966.
In January 1953 the Doctors' Plot commenced. Of course, it wasn't as horrible in Estonia as it was in Russia. One of my colleagues had returned from Leningrad and said that when he was in the tram, the ticket-collector and some passengers were discussing what should be done with the Jews in the tram. They suggested that the Jews should be ousted from the tram, but the ticket-collector talked them out of it in a peculiar way saying that it wasn't the time. Of course, nothing of the kind happened here. Though, directors of enterprises were ordered by Moscow to fire all Jews. Sometimes people were dissolved for 'incompetence'. I was called to the HR department and was told to write a resignation letter. I did. My direct boss, an Estonian, was fired probably for 'wrong' recruitment. I was looking for a job for three months, but as soon as the HR department saw my passport, it turned out that there were no job openings. Then my former boss offered me a job as a supplier in a service company he worked for. We collected scrap metal in the dumps and cut fir tree branches before New Year. I hoped that our life would change for the better after the Twentieth Party Congress, when Khrushchev held a speech, exposing Stalin's crimes. There were no quick changes. Only after ten years or so I got a good job. I was hired as a dispatcher in a company, dealing with timber: Lespromsbyt. Then I was in charge of the transportation department. I worked there until my retirement.
My mother and I remained by ourselves in the apartment after my father's death. In Soviet terms our apartment was too big for two people. I was called to the Ispolkom and told that half of our apartment would have to be occupied and that we would be left with two rooms. Our acquaintances, an Estonian couple, needed lodging and we gave them half of our apartment. We decided that if we had to share the apartment, it would be better to do that with people we knew. We made a big mistake. Our new neighbors started harassing us, nagging at every trifle. It happened so that my mother was afraid to go into the kitchen when I wasn't around. Before going to work I cooked lunch for my mother and left it in her room. She warmed it on a small electric oven. This went on for a long time. A new house was built in front of ours and we exchanged both our rooms for a one-room apartment in a new building. I still live there.
Interviewee: Juliana Sharik
Title: Alexander Kann, his wife Olga Kann and their friend
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1970
On the left is my father Alexander Kann, next to him is my mother Olga Kann and next to her one of their friends. The picture was taken in the house of my parents' friend in Tallinn in 1970.
My parents had a lot of friends. Once a week they got together to play bridge. Very often guests came over not only on holidays and birthdays, but without any occasion: when they simply wanted to see my parents. They had a wonderful company of friends. When all of them got together, our house was full of people. Our living was very moderate, but we always found money to treat our guest. Our table was never empty. It was usual for us to have 30 people in our place. All of them were very funny, quirky and friendly. They also arranged some trips, jaunts etc. It was a good and joyful life.
Interviewee: Siima Shkop
Title: Siima Shkop at th old Jewish cemetery in Tallinn
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1982
This is me at the old Jewish cemetery in Tallinn. The picture was taken in 1982.
After Stalin's death I never felt anti-Semitism. My colleagues always treated me very well. There was no biased attitude to the Jews in the Artist Council. But my children at school often were told by their classmates that they were not pure Estonians, and their mother was a Jew. I found out about that when they grew up. Probably they did not want to get me involved.
We lived in a poky room, which was humid. My daughter had lung problems. She had to be in a sanatorium for two years. When the Artist Council built the house in the center, close to the Old Town, I was given an apartment there right away. All of us moved into the new apartment. At first we lived there with my mother; Aunt Sarah lived with my sister Masha. When Masha got married, my aunt did not get along with Masha's husband. They had arguments all the time. Then my mother moved into Masha's place and Aunt Sarah came to us. When Victor's father died, we took my mother-in-law to us. My mother died in 1978. She survived Aunt Sarah by one year. Both of them were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Tallinn.
I worked a lot. I took part in many exhibitions in Estonia and all over the Soviet Union. I was awarded prizes twice. I painted a lot, made portraits of my relatives and friends. I did not give that up when I was employed by the publishers for making illustrations for books. I remember I made a portrait of Eri Klias, son of my pal from lyceum, Anna Gourevish, married name Klias. Eri went to music school and I made sketches during his classes. Then Eri became a famous conductor. I also painted a daughter of my pal from Tartu. Later I took her picture as a prototype of Snow White in illustrations for this tale. Now Anna takes her granddaughter Diana to me. She is the daughter of Eri and my Snow White.
Interviewee: Revekka Blumberg
Title: Revekka Blumberg with her husband Moris Blumberg
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 1999
This is my husband Moris Blumberg and I in the kitchen at home. This photo was taken in Tallinn in 1999.
I was eager to move to Israel, but my husband had problems in this regard. Moris worked at a defense enterprise and had a strict security access permit form. Having access to defense affairs he was not going to be allowed a permit for relocation. He had to resign and find a job, which was not associated with any access permits, in which case he might be allowed to relocate in ten years' time. Anyway, this wasn't Moris' intention. He was fanatically dedicated to what he was doing and believed in the Soviet system. To be short, he was an 'appropriate' person. Considering the job he had, he was not entitled to travel abroad for whatever purpose. The only time he traveled abroad was in 1992, when we went to Israel together. When we returned home, I sensed that he had changed a lot.
After our visit to Israel Moris understood that there are countries where people have equal initial positions, and each person is responsible for realizing them, while in the USSR we all appeared to be hostages and victims of the system. It's true, though, that this did not only concern Jews. Moris was a very honest man. I would even say, this was a hypertrophied sense of justice. For him, doing something good to his surrounding was more important than doing some good to himself and his family. This was the way his father was, and he was the same.
Moris was a very tight-lipped person. He hardly ever shared his thoughts and feeling even with me, but I know that after our trip to Israel he started revising his value system. His career, his job, which cost him a lot of effort and life, in the long run, would surely have been much more successful in another country, and he wouldn't have had to take such tremendous effort, and this thought was bothering him. The thing is, our system was squeezing whatever was possible from a person before dumping him or her. Nobody cared about people or took any interest in those, who could work no longer. Actually, Moris burnt himself at work, and then he passed away at the age of 61.
Interviewee: Rachel Randvee
Title: Rachel Randvee in her apartment
Place and Date: Tallinn, Estonia - 2003
In this photograph I am 73 years old. It was taken in my apartment in Tallinn in 2002.
All of us live together in our old apartment - my son Riho, his wife and daughter, my daughter Ene, and I. My children go to work, my granddaughter goes to school, and I do the housework. Tarmo, my husband, died in 1992.
When the Jewish Community of Estonia was re-established in 1988 I got involved immediately and became a member of WIZO women's organization. We visited the elderly and sick members of the community, talked to them, brought them presents, and celebrated Jewish holidays with them. I was younger then and never refused any kind of work. For Purim celebrations other women and I baked enormous amounts of hamantashen, enough for everyone visiting the celebration. For Pesach we served potato pancakes [latkes] to everyone. Even now, as my health permits, I'm trying to participate in all community events. I love attending class reunions of the pre-war Tallinn Jewish School. Beginning from 1994, we've been getting together every month in the Jewish community center. About 15 to 20 people are able to come every time. We drink coffee, chat in Yiddish, recall our school years, and exchange news. Unfortunately, our news aren't always happy, and after these meetings I have both warm and sad feelings.
I am happy that Estonian independence was re-established in 1991 and that the country's citizens are able to travel abroad freely. During the last ten years, I've taken three trips to Israel, got acquainted with this beautiful land, and met relatives and friends of mine who live there. That gave me great moments of joy.